If you're a poker player and enthusiast that loves the film Rounders, then keep an eye out for an upcoming documentary on the New York City underground poker scene, which tells the story of several of the poker clubs that were depicted in the film that was written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien. They both played poker and decided to bring the rough and tumble world of underground poker to the big screen.
Yes, it's true Teddy KGB from Rounders was inspired from a real-life person known as Eddie KGB. Joey Knish was based on a real person known as Joey Bagels. These larger-than-life characters were popularized by Rounders, but they were all a part of a larger ecosystem known as the underground poker scene in New York City from the 1990s that reached huge popularity in the late 2000s, which coincided with the glorious online poker boom.
The underground games eventually went private after numerous raids by NYPD and the shooting death of a popular regular. The popularity also diminished after Black Friday. However, there's a cool documentary about the rise and fall of the NYC underground poker scene. You can check out a clip that sums up the NYC poker scene in six minutes.
Residents of New York City did not have legalized gambling options within the five boroughs. Aside for OTB, which catered to degen horseracing bettors, you had to head out of state to a casino in New Jersey or Connecticut to play poker. Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut had poker rooms, but they were located a couple hours away in New England. Or you could head down the New Jersey Turnpike and play cards in Atlantic City. Buses were available to whisk gamblers away to those casinos, which I rode numerous times. For a while I rented a car every couple of weeks to drive up to Foxwoods to play poker all night and then return to NYC with the car the next morning hopefully with enough winnings to pay for the rental.
But, if you knew the right people in NYC, you could play in one of the numerous underground cardrooms like the ones depicted in Rounders, and you didn't have to schlep all the way down to AC, or fight traffic out to Foxwoods.
The Chesterfield in Rounders was the fictionalized version of the old Mayfair Club. Many pros from New York City cut their teeth playing poker at the Mayfield, but were initially there to play chess or backgammon. Obviously there's more money (and way more fish) at the poker tables than chess/backgammon, which is why poker games flourished. Erik Seidel and Howard Lederer were among the notable names who started playing at the Mayfield before eventually moving to Las Vegas to pursue poker full time as a professional.
There were no shortage of shady card rooms and gambling dens in NYC that were run by criminal groups, but the more popular card rooms were trying to distance themselves from that element. Some of those clubs were mentioned in the documentary like the Player's Club on the Upper West Side and Playstation down by Union Square. During the glorious poker boom, several celebrities could be spotted at these card rooms including A-Rod from the New York Yankees, or actor Macaulay Culkin.
The Player's Club was hidden in plain sight on Manhattan's Upper West Side, which is populated by wealthy New Yorkers with families. Yet, the Players Club spread games around the clock only footsteps from one of the most quaint neighborhoods in NYC.
Check out the clip here: